Norman Geras: Still an Idiot

July 29th, 2007  |  Published in Imperialism, Politics  |  1 Comment

There is no political position I find quite so irritating as the pro-war “decent left” types who produce things like the Euston Manifesto. There are, of course, many political positions which are more objectionable, but none that are so annoying. The Eustonites drive me nuts in the same way Bono does–self-righteousness and moral superiority combined with politically backwards and ignorant positions.

Prominent among this crowd has been Norman Geras, the onetime Marx scholar who now spends his days excoriating the left for being insufficiently eager to support U.S. wars against other countries. Against my better judgment, I found myself at his blog recently. A recent essay by Johann Hari had led me to believe that Geras had come off his ridiculous defense of the Iraq war; sadly, no. Geras still believes that he is morally superior to those who opposed the war: he concerned himself only with the noble goal of ending tyranny everywhere, while those evil war critics sold out their ideals by asking what the actual consequences of the invasion were likely to be:

I said that had I been able to foresee the scale of death and social breakdown the war was to bring I would not have supported it. I stand by this change of mind. But I am not ashamed that I supported the war; because the reasons why I did were compelling moral reasons, not disgraceful ones – reasons very much of the kind I believe Johann himself held at the time, reasons to do, precisely, with ‘solidarity with suffering strangers’. When I recant on that is when I’ll be ashamed of myself.

If you have “compelling moral reasons”, then apparently you are relieved of any responsibility for being able to “foresee the scale of death and social breakdown” caused by policies you support, even when those consequences were foreseen by many, many people before the war started. Good to know. Politics is a lot easier when you are held responsible only for your intentions, not for your results.

It’s funny that people like Geras are so fond of appealing to the enlightenment and “reason”, because they lack one of the basic characteristics associated with rationality: the connection between means and ends. Their logic leading into the war went something like this: we are for overthrowing Saddam and bringing about democracy and liberty in Iraq; the only available means of overthrowing Saddam is a war led by George W. Bush; therefore we support the war. The fact that the means (W’s war) seemed highly unlikely to bring about the desired end (democracy and liberty) was deemed irrelevant. Frankly, those apocalyptic Christians who support war in the Middle East because they think it will bring about the second coming of Christ strike me as a lot more rational than the Euston folks: if you accept their Biblical literalist premises, the whole thing is really quite logically coherent.

But there’s no need for me to go on and dissect Geras’s views about the war with analytical precision and hilarious ridicule, since Daniel Davies already did that. I’ll just highlight another outrageous bit of self-satisfied sneering from Geras. From a post titled “Nobody Defends the Spanish Inquisition”:

On the contrary, it seems that some do. I didn’t know that, but should probably have assumed it, since however bad a reputation something may have there is usually someone to speak up for it. Anyway, this piece by Toby Green talks of people who feel the Spanish Inquisition has been ‘scapegoated’, and discusses political and religious ‘influences’ upon it.

You mean someone has the gall to suggest that the Spanish inquisition had influences? Political and religious ones, even? How indecent! Obviously Toby Green is an apologist for Papist terror. Next you’ll be telling me that crime in America has socio-economic “influences”, and that criminals are “scapegoated” for wider social problems. Oh, the moral midgetry of it all! Thank Voltaire that we have Norman Geras around to straighten out our moral compass.